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when he thinks that the air, which assists
But, of all these mysteries, can one be proposed which the gospel does not unfold; or, at least, is there one on which it does not give us some principles which are sufficient fo conciliate it with the perfections of the Creator, how opposite soever it may seem?
if we allow that the afflictions of good men are profitable to them, and that, in many cases, prosperity would be fatal to them: if we grant, that the present is a transitory state, and that this momentary life will be succeeded by an immortal state; if we recollect the many similar truths which the gospel abundantly declares; can we find, in human miseries, and in the necessity of dying, objec tions against the goodness of the Creator?
Do the prosperities of bad men, and the adversities of the good, confuse our ideas of God? With the principles of the gospel I can remove all the difficulties which these different conditions produce in the mind of the disciple of natural religion. If the prin ciples of the gospel be admitted, if we be persuaded that the tyrant, whose prosperity astonishes us, fulfils the counsel of God; if ecclesiastical history assures us that Herods and Pilates themselves contributed to the establishment of that very Christianity which they meant to destroy; especially, if we admit a state of future rewards and punishments; can the obscurity in which Providence has been pleased to wrap up some of its designs, raise doubts about the justice of the Creator?
In regard then to the first object of contemplation, the perfection of the nature of God, revealed religion is infinitely superior to natural religion; the disciple of the first religion is infinitely wiser than the pupil of the last.
1. The disciple of natural religion can only imperfectly know the nature of man, the difference of the two substances of which he is composed. His reason, indeed, may speculate the matter, and he may perceive that there is no relation between motion and thought, between the dissolution of a few fibres and violent sensations, of pain, between an agitation of humours and profound reflections; he may infer from two different ef fects, that there ought to be two different causes, a cause of motion, and a cause of sensation, a cause of agitating humours, and cause of reflecting, that there is a body, and that there is a spirit.
Do the disorders of the world puzzle the disciple natural religion, and produce difficulties in his mind? With the principles of the gospel I can solve them all. When it is remembered, that this world has been de filed by the sin of man, and that he is there-a fore an object of divine displeasure; when the principle is admitted, that the world is not now what it was when it came out of the hands of God; and that, in comparison with its pristine state, it is only a heap of ruins,the truly magnificent, but actually ruin- mere principles of reason, they affirm, that ous heap of an edifice of incomparable beau-man is composed of the two substances of ty, the rubbish of which is far more proper matter and mind. I ask, first, Do you so to excite our grief for the loss of its pri- well understand matter, are your ideas of it mitive grandeur, than to suit our present so complete, that you can affirm, for certain, wants. When these reflections are made, it is capable of nothing more than this, or can we find any objections, in the disorders of that? Are you sure it implies a contradicthe world, against the wisdom of our Creator?tion to affirm, it has one property which has
But, in my opinion, those philosophers, who are best acquainted with the nature of man, cannot account for two difficulties, that are proposed to them, when, on the
Are the miseries of man, and is the fatal escaped your observation? and, consequently, necessity of death, in contemplation? With can you actually demonstrate, that the esthe principles of the gospel I solve the diffi-sence of matter is incompatible with thought? culties which these sad objects produce in the Since, when you cannot discover the union mind of the disciple of natural religion. If of an attribute with a subject, you instantly the principles of Christianity be admitted, conclude, that two attributes, which seem to
you to have no relation, suppose two different, subjects: and, since you conclude, that extention and thought compose two different subjects, body and soul, because you can discover no natural relation between extent and thought if I discover a third artribute, which appears to me entirely unconnected with both extent and thought, I shall have a right, in my turn, to admit three subjects in man; matter, which is the subject of extent: mind, which is the subject of thought; and a third subject, which belongs to the attribute that seems to me to have no relation to either matter or mind. Now I do know such an attribute; but I do not know to which of your two subjects I ought to refer it: I mean sensation. I find it in my nature, and I experience it every hour; but I am altogether at a loss whether I ought to attribute it to body or to spirit. I perceive no more natural and necessary relation between sensation and motion, than between sensation and thought. There are, then, on your principle, three substances in man: one the substratum, which is the subject of extension; another, which is the subject of thought; and a third, which is the subject of sensation: or rather, I suspect there is only one substance in man, which is known to me very imperfectly, to which all these attributes belong, and which are united together, although I am not able to discover their relation.
Revealed religion removes these difficulties, and decides the question. It tells us that there are two beings man, and, if I my express myself so, two different men, theaterial man, and the immaterial man. The Scriptures speak on these principles thus The dust shall return to the earth as its; this is the material man: 'The spirshall return to God who gave it,' Eccl. ii. 7; this is the immaterial man. Fear not them which kill the body,' that is to say, the material man: 'fear him which is able destroy the soul, Matt. x. 28, that is the immaterial man. We are willing to be absent from the body,' that is, from the material man; and to be present with the Lord,' 2 Cor. v. 8, that is to say, to have the iminaterial man disembodied. They stoned Stephen,' that is, the material man: "calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,' Acts vii. 59, that is to say, receive the immaterial man.
the Author of our being meant to forbid vice, and to enjoin virtue. But is there no room for complaint? Is there nothing specious in the following objections? As, in spite of all my endeavours to destroy virtuous dispositions, I cannot help respecting virtue; you infer, that the Author of my being intended I should be virtuous: so, as in spite of all my endeavours to eradicate vice, I cannot help loving vice, have I not reason for inferring, in my turn, that the Author of my being designed I should be vicious; or, at least, that he cannot justly impute guilt to me for performing those actions which proceed from some principles that were born with me? Is there no show of reason in this famous sophism? Reconcile the God of nature with the God of religion. Explain how the God of religion can forbid what the God of nature inspires; and how he who follows those dictates, which the God of nature inspires, can be punished for so doing by the God of religion.
The gospel unfolds this mystery. It attributes this seed of corruption to the depravity of nature. It attributes the respect we feel for virtue to the remains of the image of God in which we were formed, and which can never be entirely effaced. Because we were born in sin, the gospel concludes that we ought to apply all our attentive endeavours to eradicate the seeds of corruption. And, because the image of the Creator is partly erased from our hearts, the gospel concludes that we ought to give ourselves wholly to the retracing of it, and so to answer the excellence of our extraction.
2. The disciple of natural religion can obtain only an imperfect knowledge of the obligations, or duties of man. Natural religion may indeed conduct him to a certain point, and tell him that he ought to love his benefactor, and various similar maxims. But is natural religion, think you, sufficient to account for that contrariety, of which every man is conscious, that opposition between inclination and obligation? A very solid argument, I grant, in favour of moral rectitude, arises from observing, that to whatever degree a man may carry his sin, whatever efforts he may make to eradicate those seeds of virtue from his heart which nature has sown there, he cannot forbear venerating virtue, and recoiling at vice. This is certainly a proof that
3. A disciple of natural religion can obtain only an imperfect knowledge of the duration of man, whether his soul be immortal, or whether it be involved in the ruin of matter. Reason, I allow, advances some solid arguments in proof of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. For what necessity is there for supposing that the soul, which is a spiritual, indivisible, and immaterial being, that constitutes a whole, and is a distinct being, although united to a portion of matter, should cease to exist when its union with the body is dissolved? A positive act of the Creator is necessary to the annihilation of a substance. The annihilating of a being that subsists, requires an act of power similar to that which gave it existence at first. Now, far from having any ground to believe that God will cause his power to intervene to annihilate our souls, every thing that we know persuades us, that he himself has engraven characters of immortality on them, and that he will preserve them for ever. Enter into thy heart, frail creature! see, feel, consider those grand ideas, those inmortal designs, that thirst for existing, which a thousand ages cannot quench, and in these lines and points behold the finger of the Creator writing a promise of immortality to thee. But, how solid soever these arguments may be, however evident in themselves, and striking to a philosopher, they are objectionable, because they are not popular, but above vulgar minds, to whom the bare terms, spirituality and existence, are entirely barbarous, and convey no meaning at all.
by nature. Thus the disciple of revealed religion does not float between doubt and assurance, hope and fear, as the disciple of nature does. He is not obliged to leave the most interesting question that poor mortals can agitate undecided; whether their souls perish with their bodies, or survive their ruins. He does not say, as Cyrus said to his children: I know not how to persuade myself that the soul lives in this mortal body, and ceases to be when the body expires, I am more inclined to think, that it acquires after death more penetration and purity. He does not say, as Socrates said to his judges: And now we are going, I to suffer death, and you to enjoy life. God only knows which is best.'t He does not say, as Cicero said, speaking on this important article: 'I do not pretend to say, that what I affirm is as infallible as the Pythian oracle, I speak only by conjecture. The disciple of revelation, authorized by the testimony of Jesus Christ, who hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,' 2 Tim. i. 10, boldly affirms, Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. We, that are in this tabernacle, do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him, against that day,' 2 Cor. iv. 16; v. 4; and 2 Tim. i. 12.
III. We are next to consider the disciple of natural religion, and the disciple of revealed religion, at the tribunal of God as peniten soliciting for pardon. The former cannot find, even by feeling after it, in natural reli
Revelation dissipates all our obscurities, and teaches us clearly, and without any may-gion, according to the language of St. Paul, be, that God wills our immortality. It carries Acts xvii. 27, the grand mean of reconciliaour thoughts forward to a future state, as to a tion, which God has given to the Church; fixed period, whither the greatest part of the mean the sacrifice of the cross. Reason, inpromises of God tend. It commands us, in- deed, discovers that man is guilty; as the deed, to consider all the blessings of this life, confessions and acknowledgments which the the aliments that nourish us, the rays which heathens made of their crimes prove. It d enlighten us, the air we breathe, sceptres, cerns that a sinner deserves punishment, as the crowns, and kingdoms, as effects of the liber- remorse and fear with which their consciences ality of God, and as grounds of our gratitude. were often excruciated, demonstrate. It But, at the same time, it requires us to sur- presumes, indeed, that God will yield to the mount the most magnificent earthly objects. entreaties of his creatures, as their prayers, It commands us to consider light, air, and and temples, and altars testify. It even goes aliments, crowns, sceptres and kingdoms, as so far as to perceive the necessity of satisfy unfit to constitute the felicity of a soul crea- ing divine justice; this their sacrifices, this ted in the image of the blessed God, 1 Tim. their burnt-offerings, this their human victims, i. 11, and with whom the blessed God has this the rivers of blood that flowed on their formed a close and intimate union. It assures altars, show. us, that an age of life cannot fill the wish of But how likely soever all these speculations duration, which it is the noble prerogative of may be, they form only a systematic body an immortal soul to form. It does not without a head; for no positive promise of ground the doctrine of immortality on meta- pardon from God himself belongs to them. physical speculations, nor on complex argu- The mystery of the cross is entirely invisible; ments, uninvestigable by the greatest part of for only God could reveal that, because only mankind, and which always leave some doubts God could plan, and only he could execute in the minds of the ablest philosophers. The that profound relief. How could human reagospel grounds the doctrine on the only son, alone, and unassisted, have discovered principle that can support the weight with the mystery of redemption, when, alas! after which it is encumbered. The principle which an infallible God had revealed it, reason is I mean is the will of the Creator, who hav-absorbed in its depth, and needs all its submising created our souls at first by an act of hission to receive it as an article of faith? will, can either eternally preserve them, or absolutely annihilate them, whether they he material or spiritual, mortal or immortal,
Moreover, the union between the operations of the soul, and those of the body, is so close, that all the philosophers in the world cannot certainly determine, whether the operations of the body ceasing, the operations of the soul do not cease with them. I see a body in perfect health, the mind therefore is sound. The same body is disordered, and the mind is disconcerted with it. The brain is filled, and the soul is instantly confused. The brisker the circulation of the blood is, the quicker the ideas of the mind are, and the more extensive its knowledge. At length death comes, and dissolves all the parts of the body; and how difficult is it to persuade one's self that the soul, which was affected with every former motion of the body, will not be dissipated by its entire dissolution!
Are they the vulgar only to whom the philosophical arguments of the immortality of the soul appear deficient in evidence? Do not superior geniuses require, at least an explanation of what rank you assign to beasts, on the principle that nothing capable of ideas and conceptions can be involved in a dissolution of matter? Nobody would venture to affirm now, in an assembly of philosophers, what was some time ago maintained with great warmth, that beasts are mere self-moving machines. Experience seems to demonstrate the falsity of the metaphysical reasonings which have been proposed in favour of this opinion; and we cannot observe the actions of beasts without being inclined to infer one of these two consequences: either the spirit of man is mortal, like his body, or the souls of beasts are immortal like those of
* Xenophon. Cyrop.
Platon. Apol. Socrat ad fin.
But, that which natural religion cannot at- son between a dying Pagan and a dying
ers, who has not a right to say to himself, If
IV. But that which principally displays the prerogatives of the Christian above those of the philosopher is an all-sufficient provision against the fear of death. A compari
O! how differently do Christians die! How does revealed religion triumph over the religion of nature in this respect! May each of our hearers be a new evidence of this ar
ticle! The whole that troubles an expiring heathen, revives a Christian in his dying bed.
1. The ideas of the ancient philosophesr concerning natural religion were not collected into a body of doctrine. One philosopher had one idea, another studious man had another idea; ideas of truth and virtue, therefore, lay dispersed. Who does not see the pre-eminence of revelation on this article? No human capacity either has been, or would ever have been, equal to the noble conception of a perfect body of truth. There is no genius so narrow as not to be capable of proposing some clear truth, some excellent maxim: but to lay down principles, and to perceive at once a chain of consequences, these are the efforts of great geniuses; this capability is philosophical perfection. If this axiom be incontestable, what a fountain of wisdom does the system of Christianity ar gue? It presents us, in one lovely body of perfect symmetry, all the ideas we have enumerated. One idea supposes another idea; and the whole is united in a manner so compact, that it is impossible to alter one particle without defacing the beauty of all.
2. Pagan philosophers never had a system of natural religion comparable with that of modern philosophers, although the latter glory in their contempt of revelation. Modern philosophers have derived the clearest and best parts of their systems from the very revelation which they affect to despise. We grant, the doctrines of the perfections of God, of providence, and of a future state, are perfectly conformable to the light of reason. A man who should pursue rational tracks of knowledge to his utmost power, would discover, we own, all these doctrines: but it is one thing to grant that these doctrines are conformable to reason, and it is another to affirm that reason actually discovered them. It is one thing to allow, that a man, who should pursue rational tracks of knowledge to his utmost power, would discover all these doctrines; and it is another to pretend, that any man has pursued these tracks to the utmost, and has actually discovered them. It was the gospel that taught mankind the use of their reason. It was the gospel that assisted men to form a body of natural religion. Modern philosophers avail themselves of these aids; they form a body of natural religion by the light of the gospel, and then they attribute to their own penetration what they derive from foreign aid.
Thus speaks the dying Christian: When I consider the awful symptoms of death, and the violent agonies of dissolving nature, they appear to me as medical preparations, sharp but salutary; they are necessary to detach me from life, and to separate the remains of inward depravity from me Besides, I shall not be abandoned to my own frailty; but my patience and constancy will be proportional to my sufferings; and that powerful arm which has supported me through life, will uphold me under the pressure of death. If I consider my sins, many as they are, I am invulnerable; for I go to a tribunal of mercy, where God is reconciled, and justice is satisfied. If I consider my body, I perceive I am putting off a mean and corruptible habit, and putting on robes of glory. Fall, fall, ye imperfect senses, ye frail organs; fall, house of clay, into your original dust; you will be 'sown in corruption, but raised in incorruption; sown in dishonour, but raised in glory; sown in weakness, but raised in power, 1 Cor. xv. 42. If I consider my soul, it is passing, I see, from slavery to freedom. I shall carry with me that which thinks and reflects. I shall carry with me the delicacy of taste, the harmony of sounds, the beauty of colours, the fragrance of odoriferous smells. I shall surmount heaven and earth, nature and all terrestrial things, and my ideas of all their beauties will multiply and expand. If I consider the future economy to which I go, I have, I own, very inadequate notions of it; but my incapacity is the ground of my expectation. Could I perfectly comprehend it, it would argue its resemblance to some of the present objects of my senses, or its minute proportion to the present operations of my mind. If worldly dignities and grandeurs, if accumulated treasures, if the enjoyments of the most refined voluptuousness were to represent to me celestial felicity, I should suppose that, partaking of their nature they partook of their vanity. But, if nothing can here represent the future state, it is because that state surpasses every other. My ardour is increased by my imperfect knowledge of it. My knowledge and virtue, I am certain, will be perfected; I know I shall comprehend truth, and obey order; I know I shall be free from all evils, and in possession of all good; I shall be present with God, I know, and with all the happy spirits who surround his throne; and this perfect state, I am sure, will continue for ever and ever.' Such are the all-sufficient supports which revealed religion affords against the fear of death. Such are the meditations of a dying Christian; not of one whose whole Christianity consists of dry speculations, which have no influence over his practice; but of one who applies his knowledge to relieve the real wants of his life.
3. What was most rational in the natural religion of the Pagan philosophers was mized with fancies and dreams. There was not a single philosopher who did not adopt some absurdity, and communicate it to his disciples. One taught that every being was animated with a particular soul, and on this absurd hypothesis he pretended to account for the phenomena of nature. Another took every star for a god, and thought the soul a vapour, that passed from one body to another, expiating in the body of a beast the sins that
Christianity then, we have seen, is supe- were committed in that of a man. One atrior to natural religion, in these four spects. To these we will add a few more reflections in farther evidence of the superiority of revealed religion to the religion of
re-tributed the creation of the world to a blind chance, and the government of all events in it to an inviolable fate. Another affirmed the eternity of the world, and said, there was no period in eternity in which heaven